Be Very Afraid

Youtheatre’s New Production Shines a Light on the Pathology of Obsession

Youtheatre’s new production is like a Little House on the Scary for Montreal audiences. Photos Shaun Michaud

In a world filled up to the bloody brim with psychotic slasher films, increasingly graphic crime television, and the Internet’s leaked treasure trove of all things awful, the true definition of horror has been massacred. In light of these over-the-top depictions, what’s really scary is how far they can put us out of touch with reality.

This is one of the issues addressed in Horror Story, a hair-raising new play produced by Youtheatre, which opened at the Segal Centre on Monday.

Horror Story is the terror-saturated tale of Noah and Wyatt, two 16-year-old boys from Montreal’s suburbs, who attend a screening of an extremely gory horror film called Blood Screams.

Consequently, they become obsessed with the true events that were rumoured to have inspired the film, when two teenage boys went missing in the 1990s in upstate New York, never to be heard from again. Noah and Wyatt decide to make a gruesome pilgrimage to where the actual murders occurred, trying to find some truth behind the legend.

Despite the exploration of the exact crossroads where myth collides with reality, Horror Story’s breed of terror is a long way from the fantasy of Elm Street, instead turning theatre’s razor sharp lens on the viscera and violence of real life events.

“The two of them start to navigate into the world of online graphic content. Murder, decapitation, warzones—just all kinds of violent stuff,” said Michel Lefebvre, who directed the play and has been the executive and artistic director of Youtheatre’s productions for the past two decades.

Canadian playwright Greg MacArthur penned the play and used real news headlines for story inspiration.

“I think [MacArthur] was appalled and partially inspired by the [Luka] Magnotta story, by the Daniel Pearl beheading,” Lefebvre said. “Basically I think he looked around at the world in which we live. It’s very much a reflection of that world.”

The Magnotta case particularly hit home to Concordia: in 2012, Magnotta was accused of murdering and dismembering Concordia student Lin Jun.

Daniel Pearl was a Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and murdered by Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Much of the terror factor in the play is based on exploring the duality of our world: the offline versus the online.

“It’s about the possible danger of becoming consumed by something that is not real,” said Lefebvre. “I think today people have two lives—they live in the real world and they live in the virtual world.”

A lot of the play’s fear factor banks on what happens when the virtual life becomes indelibly combined with physical reality. These are the homey touches that lend themselves to the piece’s fearful atmosphere.

“It has some very scary moments—the kind of unhinged, almost psychotic need for this horror thrill,” said Lefebvre. “When you’re looking for that kind of rush, and you see someone living that, it’s almost as if they’re wanting to have a fix of a very powerful drug. So that can be scary to watch.”

“It has some very scary moments—the kind of unhinged, almost psychotic need for this horror thrill.” — Michel Lefebvre, director of Horror Story

Don’t Look Away

Overall, the piece is set to be less of a gore show and instead has set its crosshairs on drawing in its intended audience—young people—and spooking them into putting down their cellphones and looking critically at the world around them. In an age where violence is depicted daily in the media and movies like Hostel and the Saw franchise set the standard for most guts-per-second, there is some tension that the play’s message might fall on deaf or uninterested ears.

It’s a risk Lefebvre is willing to take.

“I feel I do know this audience, I’ve been working with them and for them for 20 years,” he said. “You know there’s never any guarantee with new work, that’s part of the excitement of doing this.”

Lefebvre and his team have been working hard on Horror Story from conception to execution for nearly two years now, and have spent the last month in rehearsals. He believes that it will resonate with the intended teen audience.

“The boys [in the play] are 16, there’s a kind of recognition factor there,” he said. “I’ve got two great actors from the Dawson theatre program who are 20. Last year, they were teenagers. All these things make it that much more visceral.”

The unique atmosphere of live theatre is something Lefebvre believes will also contribute to keeping a strong hold on the young members of the audience.

“When you’re in a room full of kids or even teenagers, you feel this sort of electrified immediacy,” said Lefebvre. “I think that’s where some of the real reflection begins. After you’ve seen these two characters going on this horrific journey, how does this relate to your life?”

It’s a deep concept for an age bracket that may not remember a time before the Internet existed and considers their smartphone as a permanent extension of their body.

The other gamble Lefebvre is taking comes from the staging of the show. Two actors, one table and 50 solid minutes of stage time—that’s it. While it might be lacking the buckets of gore, there is a great emphasis on the power of storytelling.

“I would say there is minimal movement and maximal emotional wallop and impact,” Lefebvre said. “Greg’s story will hold them. The text does all the work.”

The simple downward spiral of youth, obsessed by what’s real and what isn’t, could very well be more captivating than any senseless silver screen slashfest—both during and after the show.

“[Two teenagers] go on a journey, and the journey is frightening and beautiful and moving. It does ask us how we might react in a similar circumstance,” said Lefebvre. “That’s the message to think about when you walk out of the theatre.”

Horror Story // March 10 to March 14 // The Segal Centre (5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine St.) // 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. // $13.80